Firstly we left Athens and arrived by plane into Rome early evening. We caught a bus to the main train station from the airport after Elizabeth found out that it was really cheap (4 euros each) and one was leaving in minutes. So while we were racing with all the bags to the bus stop, Elizabeth went racing to buy the tickets, followed closely by some Aussie backpackers who had heard our conversation and agreed that it sounded like a good idea. They had not even organised accommodation for the night yet. Their usual trick was to go from hotel to hotel seeing who would give them the best deal (or sleep on the streets). Yep that's Aussies for you.
After finding our hotel location (trusty google maps) and walking from the train station we were told that our rooms were out of water and we were booked into another hotel. Luckily it was also walking distance away. Most of our accommodation is located near train stations as this whole leg will be by train travel. Elizabeth and I have 23 country, 3 month, unlimited eurail passes for train travel. Sheldon is not the only one who loves trains :-) And so started our adventure in Italy.
|The Trevi Fountain|
|mmm where's mine?|
|From the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier|
The next morning we hunted for a bus to take us to the Vatican, and then on to the Sistine Chapel to see Michelangelo's masterpiece on the ceiling. Fair warning, you can't just see the Sistine Chapel, you need to allow two hours to go through a maze of magnificently decorated hallways and rooms with paintings and sculptures to get to it. There is no direct route (due to time constraints we tried), when finally there the sight is breathtaking, but as no pictures are allowed I cannot show you (and pictures could not do it justice anyway).
|Beautiful stained glass|
Then on to Rimini for the sole purpose of seeing Italy in Miniature. A full blown amusement park of miniatures of Italy's famous landmarks complete with rides such as the Venice gondola ride (nothing like the real thing, see below), the Pinocchio story and a runaway log ride (see picture) among others. An awesome day.
|Just like the real thing|
|Don't fall out...|
|Overview of the main park|
Then off to Florence for a whole 3 nights (2 full days). This city is magical, it manages to stay in character with its old world architecture no matter where you look, day trips took in the sites including the 414 steps up the Santa Maria Del Fiore Companile for a fantastic panorama. The Statue of David was stunning with the level of detail amazing and we had long discussions about his expression, is he sad, thoughtful, triumphant, are his hands and feet in proportion etc (again no pictures, but I got several of the replica out in the Vecchio Plaza), and also interesting were the artists sitting around him sketching, brilliant atmosphere. We also went in a museum with working recreations of inventions from Leonardo Da Vinci, just amazing the amount of modern day technology he had a hand in.
|Halfway up Paul|
|Check out the 2 guys in the window|
|Amazing working replicas|
|Not the real one|
|mmm gluten free pizza & beer|
The next day was a brief train ride to Pisa to see the leaning tower, with obligatory photos of us holding it up before going racing back to Florence for our bags and catching a train to Venice. Amazing that the tower apparently started leaning by the second floor but they kept on building it and over centuries different generations have added to and tried to fix it. I would have just given up and said 'hey guys let's build it over there instead'.
Two whole days in Venice saw us walking around the canals and taking a gondola ride, and seeing the amazing island of Burano with its multicoloured buildings (the place looked like a painting, there must be some strict clauses in its building codes to make it this way). Then dinner and a late night taking in the ambience of the San Marco Plaza with music from outdoor comical, but excellent, musicians.
We ended up taking so long we caught one of the last buses, that was so overcrowded the bus driver had to come down to the back of the bus to tell us to squash up as the door wouldn't close. Then to add insult to injury we were all kicked out (not only us) about a kilometre and a half from our hotel without explanation. We ended up walking the rest of the way and found out later that the bus terminates at half its normal route after 8 pm. C'mon Venice this is no way to treat your tourists!!
|Elizabeth the fashion model|
|Heaven for Paul in the Ferrari shop|
Some tips for anyone else contemplating train travel through Italy. The website can be wrong about times so organise timetables at the station. The eurail pass (after purchase) is free on some trains but for the fast ones you are supposed to reserve for a nominal charge. It's also wise to reserve for long trips to guarantee seats throughout Europe. I have gotten into the habit of emailing the next hotel a few days in advance to find out what their closest train station is and asking for instructions on how to get to their hotel from there. This has proven very helpful. I have also (as I am allergic to gluten) asked if they cater for gluten free. Amazingly in Italy most hotels do.